Sustainable development is understood to be about ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
The Brundtland Report, The World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987
Sustainable development is essentially about thinking and acting for the long term. It is often mistaken to be solely about environmental concerns whilst it is actually primarily centred upon quality of life issues that connect environmental, socio-cultural and economic concerns.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In 2015, the international community agreed core goals that seek to eliminate hardship in our communities, improve health and wellbeing, address quality issues in education, remove inequalities, build strong international relationships and democratic institutions as well as protect our environment. Governments from around the globe committed to implement and track the Sustainable Development Goals seeking to transform our world for the better by 2030. These UN agreed goals often referred to as the SDGs add meaning and depth to globally accepted definitions of sustainability.
The Table below depicts the 17 SDGs. If you scroll on the image the text defines their concern. All nations have committed to act and report progress against the SDGs as we move towards 2030.
Sustainable development is essentially about thinking and acting for the long term.
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Five Ps lie at the heart of the ambitious goals: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships:
The SDGs interpret sustainable development to be about: the livability of cities and the health of communities; addressing social justice, peace and inequalities; redesigning our education and economic systems; addressing climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss; building stronger governance, partnerships and accountability systems; as well as, engaging people in taking responsibility for their own future and, that of the planet.
Whilst the SDGs define the thematic entry points for sustainable development, three key principles are central to any approach to sustainable development:
i) the precautionary principle;
ii) intergenerational equity; and,
iii) the interconnectedness of all things.
The Precautionary Principle:
The precautionary principleenables decision-makers to adopt measures when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter may be unavailable or lacking. It emphasizes caution, pause and risk avoidancebefore leaping into decisions or new innovations that may be proven to affect people or planet detrimentally in the long term.